PARK RIDGE -- New Trier has found many ways to win regional finals over the years.
That included this time, which took the program's 21st regional plaque in a row. The Trevians found a way to recover from an early deficit against Oak Park and River Forest on Friday in the Maine South Regional final. New Trier scored the tying goal in the first half and delivered two more in the latter stages of the second to record a 3-1 win that pushed the second seed to a May 23 Evanston Sectional date against third-seeded Loyola. The Ramblers topped sixth-seeded Niles West 3-0 Friday.
An early deficit against ninth-seeded Oak Park and River Forest wasn’t on the game plan for New Trier, which is ranked ninth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25.
Kiki Leman scored the Huskies goal in the eighth minute for a 1-0 lead. It was a great gift for her 18th birthday.
"It really set the tone for the game, and we were obviously the underdogs," Leman said. "Just putting that one away was like giving us the energy at that point. Also being my birthday, getting a birthday goal, it really meant a lot. I knew (New Trier) was going to be disciplined, especially in their defense. They have a really strong backline. Once I saw the gap, I just drove. I saw the goalie come out; I just toed it in."
New Trier's Josie Noble tied the match at 1-1 in the 23rd minute from a Kennedy Colegrove through-ball. Noble beat several Huskies' defenders on her way to the equalizer.
"We showed some resilience and had that happen a couple of times (this season),” New Trier coach Jim Burnside said. "We just need to keep working, and we did a good job. It was a team effort. We got in (the Oak Park and River Forest defense) and created some dangerous stuff.
"It was a matter of possession and finding the girls on the outside," Burnside said. "When we found them, we were able to spread (Oak Park and River Forest's defense) a little bit. Today, we just didn't finish; we had some chances. But it was one of those things you have to grind through sometimes. (Oak Park and River Forest) was a good team, athletic and an aggressive team. It was a battle for us."
A match like this one could help for the upcoming Evanston sectional and further for New Trier.
"Every single game is a different test for you," Burnside said. "This was a great game. We like to play good opponents to make us play better and challenge us. It was fun and this why we train and play."
In the 61st minute of play, Oak Park and River Forest (7-9-1) made a bid to retake the lead. Keira Kleidon got past the Trevians' defense and bore down on New Trier keeper Caroline Hague in a 1-v-1 challenge. Hague came off her line for the challenge, made the save and covered the ball.
For the game-affecting save and her strong play, the sophomore earned the honor of the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match.
"When it gets close on 1-v-1s. I just go for it," Hague said. "I just put that in mind that's what I have to do. I just went for it. It hit me, and I got right for the ball. I just keep my eyes on the ball and go for it. Being that the game was tied up, made it very important. A save like that brings the team up, gets the team excited and riled up."
The Trevians' responded some seven minutes later to take the lead. Lida Dodge’s initial shot spilled off the hands of Oak Park and River Forest keeper Jackie Bollinger (eight saves). Lauren Caldwell made a run for the ball near the back post and sent it into the goal.
"I was like ‘This is the moment to win this game!’" Caldwell said. "I knew Lida (Dodge) would get the shot on the frame. I was just able to get to it. We've been told to follow the ball every time there's a shot. That was the first thing I was doing, and it worked out."
Dodge added an insurance goal for New Trier on a 25-yard free kick that she slotted into the top left corner in the 75th minute.
Oak Park and River Forest battled through a solid schedule season this season that included the uber-tough West Suburban Conference Silver Division. The Huskies knocked off regional host Maine South to earn their finals berth.
"I think we played one of our best games, and I think some powerhouses get in our heads a little bit," Oak Park and River Forest coach Christie Johnston said. "I couldn't be more proud with the way we played. We didn't give up, and we played hard -- hard physically and hard mentally. Got that goal off the bat that was nice to see. We had things come together, but unfortunately the outcome wasn't what we wanted.
“We played hard to the end and played with some adversity. I think New Trier underestimated us a little bit; we were the underdog. Going in, we believe in each other and play for each other. The pressure was on them being the higher seed. The early goal was special, because they came out with confidence and were fired up."
The Huskies large senior class leaves with plenty of great memories.
"They gave us a lot of great years and I'm looking for younger ones to fill their shoes," Johnston said. "Our record and goals against us don't always reflect or demonstrate how talented a team this is. We play hard teams and some of the top 10 teams in the state: St. Charles East, Loyola, Lyons, Downers Grove South and York. Those games prepare us for games like this.
“The seniors led us with confidence and fight and grit. They showed our younger girls how to lead. They showed them what it’s like to reach a regional final and to face adversity. Our record wasn't great, but I love the talent that they have, and they just don't give up."
Oak Park and River Forest
GK - Jackie Bollinger
D - Tess Wright
D - Sophia Henry
D - Isabella Kalina
D - Kylie Houghton
MF - Gweny Lopez
MF - Addison Bliss
MF - Mia Dunavan
MF - Cate Ryan
MF - Keira Kleidon
F - Kiki Leman
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Caroline Hague, so., GK, New Trier
OPRF-Kiki Leman (Keira Kleidon), 8
NT-Josie Noble (Kennedy Colegrove), 23
NT-Lauren Caldwell (unassisted), 68
NT-Lida Dodge (unassisted), 75